Due to the sedentary work culture in the US, on average, employees spend 7-8 hours at their workstations daily. That is almost 70% of their work time. Musculoskeletal Disorder (MSD), repetitive strain injuries (RSI), and back pain are becoming common issues for workers.
Back Pain at Work
Back pain is one of the leading workplace issues that many employees face. You can sustain back pain or a back injury at the workplace due to poor postures, such as sitting or lounging in the chair for extended periods, and repetitive work tasks.
Workplace accidents, such as slipping on the floor, may also cause back injuries, jolting the spinal cord, and restraining muscles.
Work-related MSD is the largest class of workplace injury claims accounting for 40% of all workers’ compensation claims. WMSD’s result in 70,000 lost workdays annually.
Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) in the Workplace
A sedentary work routine poses threats to your physical health. Poor office ergonomics lead to repetitive strain injuries. It stems from overusing your hands for performing a highly repetitive task, such as clicking a mouse, typing, or writing.
The prolonged repetitive, awkward, and forceful hand movements while using a computer make you prone to RSI. IT causes pain, numbness, weakness, or impaired motor control.
RSI not only hurts your hands and wrists, but it can also injure your muscles, tendons, neck nerves, and shoulder. Staring the screen for a longer period can strain your eyes. Repetitively reaching for a mouse can also cause neck strain and spinal asymmetry.
Ergonomic Tips to avoid Back Pain and RSI
The idea behind Ergonomics is simple – to adapt the workplace to the needs of the employees depending on their job description, work task, and physique. Office ergonomics help prevent workplace injuries, especially back pain and RSI.
- Maintain a Balanced Posture
First, maintain a neutral body posture while sitting or standing. It means to align your body and joints, placing minimal stress. Poor postures lead to MSD. Balanced body postures minimize the stress on the muscles and tendons around the joints. It also reduces the stress on nerves and bones, allowing for optimal control and force.
- Work in your Comfort Zone
Well, it is similar to maintaining the right body posture. The comfort zone, also called a power zone, or handshake zone is when your arm and back can lift the most with minimal efforts. The idea is to “shake hands with your work,” minimizing excessive reach while maintaining a balanced posture. It allows for pain-free work, reducing the risk of RSI and MSD.
- Take Stretch and Move breaks
The musculoskeletal system is the movement system in the human body. Sitting, standing, or placing your body in static positions for extended periods cause fatigue. To prevent static load, take a stretch or warm-up breaks. Stretch out your arms, legs, shoulders, back, and even wrist. It reduces fatigue, improves blood circulation, muscular balance, and muscle coordination.
- Reduce Repetitive Motion
Excessive motion is a primary ergonomic risk factor in workplaces. Many jobs require high task repetition, such as those with hourly production targets. Excessive movement, excessive force, and awkward postures increase the risk of RSI and MSD. So, avoid excessive motions as much as possible.
- Avoid Task requiring Excessive Force
Muscle effort increases due to excessive force requirements. The additional force or stress on the body increases the risk of back pain and other MSDs. Eliminating or reducing excessive force lowers the risk. And to do so, you must use mechanical assistance to lift heavy loads. It requires less muscle exertion and minimal work effort.
- Reduce Contact Stress
Contact stress stems from continuous contact between sensitive body tissues and hard/sharp surfaces. For instance, the soft tissues of your fingers or palms or your wrist resting on the hard surface of the desk is a typical example of contact stress. It inhibits blood circulation, muscular movement, and nerve function. Try to reduce the contact as much as you can.
- Hold Proper Computer Posture
There is more to computer postures beyond your sitting position. It also includes your wrist position and your screen (monitor/laptop/ tablet) height. Poor computer posture is one of the main reasons for developing RSI. Make sure your chair is adjusted such that your elbow forms a 100-degree angle at the work desk.
The top screen must be at your eye level. When typing, your wrist must be straight and placed on a wrist pad. For laptops, it is better to use an external keyboard and mouse to avoid extending your wrist. Sit straight with back support.
- Switch between Sitting and Standing
Standing for extended hours is as harmful to your back, neck, and spine as sitting for long periods. If you have traditional work desks at your workplace, take at least two walking breaks during your working hours. If you have a standing desk, switch between sitting and standing; the ideal ration is 1:1 to 1:3. It means you must stand and sit for 30 minutes each. Or you can sit for 15 minutes and then stand for 45 minutes.
- Limit exposure to Vibration
Numerous studies suggest that frequent exposure to vibration can affect your health. People who work with vibrating tools as part of their job are at risk. For instance, frequent hand-arm vibration can cause hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS), and other diseases like the white finger or carpal tunnel syndrome. So, try to reduce if you cannot eliminate exposure to vibration.
- Work in Adequate Lighting and Quality Air
Dull work environments with dim lightings, glare, and no ventilation can cause headaches, fatigue, and suffocation. Inadequate lighting increases the risk of workplace injuries like falling on your back or bumping into a desk. Make sure to have proper lighting in your workspace and good air quality as it is part of office ergonomics.
Bonus Tip: To prevent eye strain or fatigue, follow the 20-20-20 rule, i.e., look outside, 20 feet away for 20 seconds to rest your eyes.
While back pain and repetitive strain injuries are common, following the tips mentioned above, you can prevent RSI and back injuries. It is all about identifying the ergonomic risk factors and reducing them to maintain a healthy back and work routine.